Switch to winter season boosts Manchester City and Chelsea in Europe

Suzanne Wrack on 21 November 2017

Last week Manchester City and Chelsea secured their places in the Champions League quarter-finals. Both sides won in style over the two legs, Chelsea beating Rosengard 4-0 overall and City gaining their last-eight place with a 7-1 aggregate score against LSK Kvinner.

These were no mean feats. Rosengard are Champions League quarter-final stalwarts, having made the last eight seven seasons running. The Swedish side were runners-up in the 2017 Damallsvenskan (Swedish league) to the quarter-finalists Linkopings for the second year in a row.

LSK Kvinner won the Toppserien (the Norwegian women’s top division) title in emphatic style, finishing 11 points clear of their nearest rivals Avaldsnes, who won the Norwegian cup final with a 1-0 win over Valerenga on Saturday.

It is no surprise that the success of Scandinavian sides in Europe has reflected the health of their domestic women’s leagues over the years, though not to the same extent as the dominant French and Germans, and the same may well be true for England in due course.

For decades women’s football was neglected here and Arsenal, pioneering the game practically alone, achieved success in Europe despite the weakness of the league at home. As they invested and developed, their performances in Europe showed remarkable progress. Six quarter-final exits and five semi-final defeats sandwiched a historic trophy in 2006-07, when they completed an unprecedented quadruple. The Scot Julie Fleeting scored nine times, including two hat-tricks, on their way to the top of European football and Alex Scott scored the winner in the 1-0 aggregate victory over the Swedish side Umea in the two-legged final.

Not until the 2013-14 season, when Birmingham reached the semi-finals, was there a true measure of the changes taking place domestically. The women’s game on a stronger footing has attracted greater numbers of men’s professional clubs to run and invest in women’s teams and the league here has remarkably quickly become as strong as those mentioned on the continent. And last season Manchester City endorsed this when they, too, reached the semi-finals before bowing out to the eventual winners, Lyon, their 1-0 win in the second leg not enough to overturn a 3-1 home defeat in the first.

It’s this context that makes the progress of City and Chelsea so impressive. The turn of their clubs to women’s football has transformed the domestic game. Arsenal have been kept out of the competition they have been more successful in than any other English side since the 2013-14 season, with Birmingham, Bristol Academy (now Bristol City) and Liverpool, and now Chelsea and City, all helping to push the Gunners out of the top two in the league and thus the Champions League spots.

Manchester City’s Izzy Christiansen, right, battles for possession during the win at home to LSK Kvinner.
Manchester City’s Izzy Christiansen, right, battles for possession during the win at home to LSK Kvinner. Photograph: Tom Flathers/Man City via Getty Images

Now the Blues of Manchester and London go into the hat for Friday’s draw with Lyon, Barcelona, Linkopings, Montpellier, Slavia Prague and the two-time champions Wolfsburg not just as cannon fodder but as serious contenders. The switch to a winter league will have undoubtedly aided this progress. With previous domestic seasons being played from March to September/October, English teams were launching their European campaigns as the season was drawing to a close, playing the latter stages post-season. Now they can build momentum during their league campaigns, maintain their fitness and test their squad depth.

England is not the only country benefiting from domestic investment. Wolfsburg and Lyon will still be favourites to claim the crown they have won in six of the past seven seasons between them (Wolfsburg in 2013 and 2014, Lyon in 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017). Meanwhile, Barcelona are reaping the rewards of a strong summer of signings marking the club’s intentions in the long term – Toni Duggan, recruited from Manchester City, their top scorer in the Champions League so far and Euro 2017 Golden Ball-winner Lieke Martens just two of their impressive haul.

With the quarter-finals scheduled for 21-22 and 28-29 March the two English sides will be forced to focus on their league form before they can dream of progression to the latter stages of the Champions League. But no matter how tough their next test may be, Arsenal have shown it can be done and, if experience can guide one of them to the top, it may be Chelsea. Five of their squad, including the captain, Katie Chapman, and vice-captain, Gilly Flaherty, were part of that all-conquering Gunners side.

Talking points

• Chelsea have signed the Sweden international Jonna Andersson from Linkopings. The 24-year-old defender, who can play at left-back or wing-back will join up with the Blues when the transfer window opens on 29 December. In her nine years at Linkopings she has won three league titles and three league cups.

• LSK Kvinner’s Guro Reiten was named player of the year and midfielder of the year in the Toppserien end-of-season awards. LSK, who ran away with the league, also saw their coach, Hege Riise, win coach of the year.

• Denmark women have been handed a four-year suspended ban from Uefa competitions and the FA fined £1,871 following the cancellation of the team’s World Cup qualifying game against Sweden on 20 October. The national team resorted to strike action as a dispute with the Danish FA over pay and conditions escalated. Sweden were handed a 3-0 win as a result of the action.

• The BBC’s annual Price of Football study has found that, while the Women’s Super League had the highest price increases across all ticket categories, it still remains the cheapest league to watch in Britain. The average season-ticket price rose 23% in WSL 1 and WSL 2, while match-day tickets ranged from £4 to £10.

• West Ham have announced three new signings as they look to strengthen their team having applied for a WSL licence. The former London Bees, Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Andria Georgiou has joined the club along with the University of Kentucky striker Zoe Swift (who scored on her Hammers debut against Coventry) and Ellie Zoepfl, who also joins from the US.

• The NWSL has announced the immediate dissolution of the two-time NWSL champions FC Kansas City. The long-term future of the club has been in doubt for some time following a fallout with the Likens brothers, who owned the side, and the takeover by Elam Baer in January failed to steady the ship. The NWSL has had the franchise sold back to it and has announced that the Major League Soccer club Real Salt Lake will have the remnants of Kansas City (draft picks, player contracts etc) transferred to it.

Latest Football News